Horse-Riding Librarians Were the Great Depression’s Bookmobiles

By Eliza McGraw for smithsonianmag.com

Their horses splashed through iced-over creeks. Librarians rode up into the Kentucky mountains, their saddlebags stuffed with books, doling out reading material to isolated rural people. The Great Depression had plunged the nation into poverty, and Kentucky—a poor state made even poorer by a paralyzed national economy—was among the hardest hit.

The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. The state already trailed its neighbors in electricity and highways. And during the Depression, food, education and economic opportunity were even scarcer for Appalachians.

They also lacked books: In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. “Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap,” writes Boyd.

Read more here.

Your child will learn to read about history with Reading Kingdom.  Sign up today for a free 30 day trial.

Melissa Bernard

Melissa Bernard

Melissa is Reading Kingdom’s community manager and mom to two daughters, 4 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 tortoises.She is also an advocate for children with special needs as her youngest daughter suffers from Cerebral Palsy.Another major passion for Melissa is animal welfare and she volunteers as a foster parent for stray and abandoned animals.
Melissa Bernard

Latest posts by Melissa Bernard (see all)